Bob Taylor proves that the tradition of blacksmithing is still alive

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Blacksmithing was born thousands of years ago – around 1500 B.C. – when the Hittites began to forge and temper iron. It was crude, as all they had were basic tools and fire, but it sufficed for creating weapons such as spearheads and arrows.

As time went on, the process was labeled blacksmithing – based on the byproduct of welding. “It was a dirty job, the carbon turns everything black,” explained Bob Taylor, whose business “Welder on Wheels” is in Laguna Canyon.

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Bob Taylor in his workshop in the Canyon

On the surface, the elements of Taylor’s life don’t seem to fit – blacksmith, surfer, hippie, artist, chopper aficionado and born-again Christian – however, they describe him to a T. Each complements the others and has shaped who he is today. In both work and life, his devotion to all is apparent.

“I work hard, and I love helping people,” he said. “That’s my passion – to fix things (for people) or make things for people.”

Fast forward from 1500 B.C. to 1999 when Taylor took up the blacksmithing trade as a business, albeit creating a bit more sophisticated items than weapons. His artistic creations adorn houses, prestigious hotels and represent the public art in our city and beyond.

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Welder on Wheels

Taylor’s designs occupy both the sea and sky, as he holds the record for lowest and highest creations in Laguna. The lowest is his stainless steel that holds the buoy off Main Beach (they needed weight, he said) – and the highest is a six-foot diameter, 35-pound aluminum ornament named “Moon Over Montage” he made for Montage Laguna Beach.

Taylor recalled how the relationship with Montage began.

“Twenty years ago, one of the principals of the place called and said he needed a railing repaired ASAP. The salt air does a number on any metal. I said, ‘I can do it but I’m just one guy; I don’t have any employees and I need to get paid when I’m done. He understood and they made sure I got paid right away when I finished – and that was the start of a 20-year relationship.”

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Unusual use for a vice

Raised in Palos Verdes, Taylor was attracted to welding at an early age.

“When I was a little boy, my father sold welding supplies door to door to businesses,” Taylor said “He would demonstrate by lighting up the torch and striking an arc. I was fascinated with watching him weld, and I worked for him until the day he died in 1988. He died when he was my age. He’d had a stroke and then two years later he passed from a heart attack and died in my mom’s arms at their house on Nyes Place. He was a World War II Navy vet and served in the Pacific Theater.

His father bought the family’s first house halfway up Nyes Place (in Laguna). “It was $500 down on a three-bedroom brand new house. It was $74,000, and he scratched to make the payments,” Taylor said.

Taylor admitted that he inherited his work ethic and integrity from his father.

“That generation was hard working, and he always said, ‘Son, your word is your bond, and your reputation will follow you wherever you go, so pay attention to what you’re doing.’”

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“Wrenches of the Rail” was built as a tribute to spring break when he rode a boxcar

“It was spring break in 1973, I was 17 years old, and a friend and I hopped a train all the way down to Calexico by boxcar from Wilmington. It was also the year that I hitchhiked to Laguna,” Taylor said as he pointed out the sculpture Wrenches of the Rail that pays homage to that spring break trip.

“In 1999, I started welding full time, and I took the business name, which wasn’t already taken, ‘Welder on Wheels.’ My first shop was on Coast Highway and Anita Street. I was there for a year and then after that I moved to a nearby location, and I was there for 10 years. I could hear the surf when it was good, and I’d head out,” he said. He’s been at his current location for 14 years. “So altogether in January 2025, it will be 25 years, I’ve been in business.” Local sculptor Casey Parlette used to hang around Taylor’s studio when he was a kid.

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Illustration by Rick Griffin, commissioned by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa in the 1970s

Just as his work affected a younger generation of artists, it’s no surprise that Taylor was influenced by other artists as he was developing his career.

“The greatest influences on me – as far as art goes – were Rick Griffin and David Brunetta. I have a poster of Jesus that was an illustration done by Rick Griffin and commissioned by pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Church in the ‘70s. I was part of that Jesus revolution. It was just before my 21st birthday and I realized I really needed to repent of my sins. I received Jesus and I became a born-again Christian in 1977. Then for the first year, I lived in a place called the Lord’s House which was a Christian home for hippies who got saved.”

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Gift for his 40th birthday from artists David Brunetta and Cheryl Ekstrom

Taylor mentioned a few of his public art projects. “I worked with Jorg Dubin (whose workshop is in the same complex) on the 9/11 monument Semper Momento. The parts were delivered in two eight-foot-long coffins,” he said. “I also worked with Jorg on the Pyne Castle gate.” He collaborates with Troy Lee on projects such as wall mounts and helmet clips and has designed and created pieces for Pepper Tree Lane.

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A multitude of tools

Taylor’s workshop is filled with unique tools. “I’ve created a lot of tools for custom jobs,” he said. Leftover pieces of metal from previous jobs cover the walls.

“We’re [blacksmiths] the last of a generation, so now this is basically a hobby.” Now 68 years of age, Taylor said, “I’m semi-retired, and I can choose my customers. I’ve been married 44 years to my dear Lisa.” The Taylors have six daughters and a son, who is the youngest – and 14 grandchildren.

“The closest child is in Crestline in California, and others live in Colorado, Australia and Hawaii,” he said. “Two of my daughters married surfers just like me, so it’s a blessing because I can go to Hawaii and go surfing with the locals and then go to Australia to surf.”

Taylor has plenty of other activities to fill his time. “I like to ride my chopper on Ortega Highway.”

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Wall art from previous projects

Above all he has a lifelong dedication to helping others. He doesn’t describe it as a divine influence or “calling,” but it appears to be a driving force in his life.

However, on this day, the surf is calling to Taylor. As the visit to his workshop ends, he jumps into his 1973 El Camino (with a custom hitch he designed), to drive down to the ocean and check out the surf.

For more information, follow Welder on Wheels on Facebook.


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